She may have never attended Gonzaga University, but the way Eva Lassman lived her life holistically embodied the message GU strives to instill within every one of its students.

Lassman was captured by Nazi soldiers in 1942, during the Holocaust. She survived, and moved to Spokane in 1949 to put those experiences behind and start life anew. 

That was until 1983, when, while attending a Holocaust ceremony, Lassman became inspired to share her stories and inform the world of her personal experience with injustice and bigotry.  

“I think what is so inspiring in this story is that this is an individual who’s seen the most horrible aspects of humanity and survived that,” said Pavel Shlossberg, associate chair for the department of leadership at GU. “She raised three kids, a local here to Spokane, and later in her life, when one would usually move into the twilight of their life, she stood up and engaged the communities.” 

For 25 years, Lassman recalled her own painful stories to a wide array of schools, churches and community groups throughout the Inland and Pacific Northwest in hopes of eliminating hate.

“I decided to put my experience of pain and misery to work for something more positive, to teach people to live without hate and to live with tolerance and understanding,” Lassman said in a 2009 article for the Fig Tree, an independent, nonprofit newspaper. “We have to start with our children because they are our future, so I spoke in many schools.”   

Along with educating, Eva played an instrumental role in facilitating different environments to address topics of hate around Spokane and GU. She helped create the Spokane Community Holocaust Memorial in 2005, coordinated an Anne Frank exhibit at GU in 2000 and collaborated alongside GU Professor Emeritus George Critchlow in order to establish the GU’s Institute of Hate Studies (GIHS) in 1998.

When GIHS was inaugurated, it became the first academic program of its kind to specialize in the internationally interdisciplinary field.

Since GIHS’s inception on campus, two additional American universities have created their own institutes for hate studies, as well as the establishment of the International Network of Hate Studies, all of which work together to advance the growing field of research.

To foster development and research, GU publishes the annual Journal of Hate Studies, which is an internationally recognized scholarly journal and hosts a biannual International Conference of Hate Studies. 

In an effort to simultaneously promote research on topics of hate while commemorating the contributions to the field by one of the Institute’s founders, GIHS founded the Eva Lassman Award Program. 

“[Eva’s] life very much aligns in its own way with being a person for others and it’s great to watch that human spirit cross boundaries and the way that legacy lives on is really something that we model and foster here at Gonzaga,” Shlossberg said. “We wanted to celebrate that legacy in a very direct way with these awards by showing that you can be that light for others by accompanying people through their struggles.”

The award program is composed of two entities. The Take Action Against Hate Award serves the purpose of recognizing members of the community who have contributed substantial and progressive work within the hate studies field, in which Lassman herself was the inaugural winner of in 2009. 

The second award, the Eva Lassman Student Research Award, is a prestigious grant offered exclusively to GU students.

This award, which is being offered for the third consecutive year, is open to students of any degree at GU who intend on studying at the university next year. 

A potential applicant doesn’t need to be previously involved with GIHS, or even be pursuing a degree within the concentration to be eligible. All that is asked of those who submit an application is they intend on engaging in research over the 2020-21 school year, which involves studying topics of hate in some capacity.

“If someone’s work were concerned with ageism, xenophobia, misogyny, racism, Islamophobia or anytime when people are harmed because of who they are, if that’s the topic that you have passion about, then you are welcome to apply for the award,” said Kristine Hoover, director of the Institute of Hate Studies. “We want to find a person where we can have the greatest impact in how they will build their trajectory into their leadership and beyond graduation.”

The online award description recommends that work done by students for this award should be based in pursuit of academic research, but that work pertaining to alternative media, such as the arts, is also encouraged.  

In the previous two iterations of this award process, in 2017 and 2018, the sole winner of the grant was allocated a $700 stipend toward research. The selection committee said this year is the first time the fund can support multiple applicants, meaning that, along with the central winner who will still be granted the same award as recipients in years past, the fund can also sponsor a handful of other applicants through allotments of smaller awards from the fund’s endowment.

To apply, a prospective applicant will need to submit a three-page narrative explaining their research project and why it matters to them, a short prose stating how they plan on utilizing the award money and finding a faculty member to sponsor their research and act as a guide while the research is being conducted. 

Within the work submitted by students, the review committee is looking for theses that foster leadership qualities, and adhere to GU’s mission statement and GIHS’s themes of social justice. 

“One of the legacies of Eva Lassman is that she touched a lot of lives and impacted a lot of organizations,” Shlossberg said. “She wasn’t a teacher, but she worked with schools at every level and was an impactful educator. So, both the leadership aspect and the social justice aspect can cut through any field, any department, any program. There are so many ways that you can participate in this kind of award.”

If proof were needed to demonstrate how dynamic the work for this scholarship can be, the projects completed by the award’s previous two winners act as great examples. 

Taylor Carnevale, who won the award in 2018, concentrated her research on the idea of othering, which is the unintentional  or intentional grouping of people,  and how those types of practices can lead to the propagation of domestic terrorism.

The award’s inaugural recipient, doctoral student Marnie Rorholm, built her research around the symbol of pink triangles and how that symbol is viewed in today’s world in context to its history.

Rorholm said the grant she received from the Eva Lassman Student Research Award was vital in helping her construct her paper, as it helped her travel to San Francisco, where she conducted her research at Pink Triangle Park and asked those who stopped to view it what they understood the symbol to represent. 

“I got [my work] published in the Journal of Hate Studies and it was a great use of the award. After I had done it, the university brought Joel Lassman, Eva’s son, on campus and we met,” Rorholm said. “I explained to him what I was doing and he told me that it’s exactly what his mom would’ve wanted for someone who’s approaching hate studies to look at.”

No matter what field of study or discipline the work taken on by the award committee comes from, its fundamental purpose will be to uphold the same values and ideals Lassman fought tirelessly to imbue within everyone as an instrument to combat intolerance.

“The Eva Lassman Student Research Award gave me the opportunity to grow this originally small thesis into a big effort in fighting hate and encouraging love, unity, civility and social justice,” Rorholm said. “If that much snowballed out of it for me, I can’t imagine what it’s going to snowball for other scholars; it’s a beautiful seed that’s been planted and will grow into who knows what.”

Asher Ali is a staff writer.

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